‘Shark’ Mark Cuban Bites Into Stern Entrepreneurs

Prominent entrepreneur Mark Cuban talked to members of the NYU community about his early career before discussing entrepreneur's businesses in a so-called “Stern Tank.”

EMT Professor Greg Coleman (left) interviews Mavericks owner and entrepreneur Mark Cuban about one of his first start-ups, Broadcast.com, an early audio streaming service he began in 1995 before selling it to Yahoo for $5.7 billion. (Photo by Victor Porcelli)

Mark Cuban spoke at Tisch Hall on Tuesday, touching on his early business ventures and contemporary politics before reviewing three current and former NYU students’ start-ups.

Over 500 students, alumni and faculty squeezed into Paulson Auditorium to attend the event, which was co-hosted by Stern’s Entertainment, Media and Technology program and the W.R. Berkley Innovation Labs.

The event was separated into two sections: a Fireside Chat discussing Cuban’s early career and the “Stern Tank,” during which entrepreneurs pitched their businesses to the man who has invested over $25 million into strangers and their ideas.

First up in the Stern Tank was Ephemeral, a temporary tattoo company founded by Stern student Josh Sakhai seeking to provide a middle ground between two-week stickers and permanent tattoos. Next was Stern alumnus Kobi Wu of VisuWall, which offers landlords an opportunity to generate revenue in their vacant stores by displaying advertisements in their windows.

Cuban ended up suggesting Wu should change her entire business model by eliminating the computer vision aspect of her advertisements. Rather than invest in a sensor to analyze the demographics and amount of people who view the advertisement, Cuban said she should instead focus on selling advertisements that don’t use technology he called “unreliable.”

Wu said she would consider his advice.

“I mean I’m going to look into it — I might use everything, I don’t know, you never know,” Wu said. “What’d he tell me to do? He told me to throw out the computer vision, I was like ‘I don’t know, I don’t know about that.’”

Courant grad Christopher Mitchell presented his company Geopipe last, which creates virtual reality copies of the world around us. Though Cuban pointed out issues with the first two companies that prevented him from investing, he ended the event with a promising statement to Mitchell.

“I’ll negotiate with you because I’m a Shark,” Cuban said. “But reach out to me, you have my email,” he continued, alluding to potential investment in Geopipe.

Stern professor Greg Coleman, who hosted the talk, asked the lifelong entrepreneur and current member of ABC’s Shark Tank about his early career. Cuban originally worked for a software company in Dallas, though later started his own software company after being fired. The company, called MicroSolutions, was eventually sold for $6 million. A few years later he started Broadcast.com, which was an online radio service catering to sports fans. In its most expensive acquisition, Yahoo! purchased Cuban’s company for $5.7 billion in 1999.

Cuban said the idea for Broadcast.com first came when he went out of his way to listen to basketball games during his time at Indiana University.

“The way we listened to basketball games in Dallas is somebody in Bloomington, Indiana would put a speakerphone next to a radio, an AM radio, and then in Dallas we have a table, a whole lot of six-packs and we’d have the speakerphone there, and we listened to the game,” Cuban said.

Throughout the conversation with professor Coleman, Cuban shared how he is constantly exploring new technologies. In order to better understand artificial intelligence, for example, he watched NYU’s Introduction to Neural Networks course on YouTube.

“AI is going to have more of an impact than the internet did,” Cuban said.

While machine learning and artificial intelligence may be the future of new technologies, he believes compassionate capitalism is far more important. While in the past companies were focused on making as much money as possible, Cuban urged the entrepreneurs in the audience to create socially-conscious companies.

“The way entrepreneurs contribute to society is changing,” Cuban announced. “Now if you’re going to be an entrepreneur, having a social component is good, but being a compassionate entrepreneur is better.”

Given the recent surge in candidates announcing their bid for presidency in 2020, the question came up if Cuban was considering a run himself.

“The definition of bad parenting is running for president when you have three kids,” Cuban said.

Before the pitch competition, there was a Q & A. When a Stern MBA student asked him what industries are ripe for innovation, Cuban succinctly replied “all of them,” emphasizing the need for change in all industries.

“One of my dad’s favorite sayings is you don’t live in the world you were born into, everything changes all the time, and you know what’s better than change?” Cuban asked. “Creating change.”

Email Akiva Thalheim at [email protected]

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